Indigenous people 'invisible' to police, family says, after missing Vancouver man confirmed dead

Darius Smallboy, 23, died on Nov. 4, 2022 after going missing in Vancouver. (Smallboy family - image credit)
Darius Smallboy, 23, died on Nov. 4, 2022 after going missing in Vancouver. (Smallboy family - image credit)

After spending the last two weeks papering downtown Vancouver with missing person posters of Darius Smallboy, the young Indigenous man's family has just learned he was lying dead in a city morgue the entire time.

Smallboy's family is now speaking out about what they allege was an indifferent response from the Vancouver Police Department and an unacceptable delay in identifying his body.

"He was a good kid and it just feels like he didn't matter to the VPD," his aunt, Jamie Smallboy, told CBC.

"Sadly, that's the way it is for Indigenous people. We're invisible to them. We're not a priority in any way."

Darius Smallboy, 23, was last seen leaving his apartment building near Fraser Street and Broadway on Nov. 3.

On Thursday, the family was informed that a passerby had found Smallboy close to death in the Downtown Eastside on Nov. 4. He died the same day, but it has taken this long to identify the body, despite the family's efforts to draw attention to the case.

A spokesperson for the B.C. Coroners Office confirmed that Smallboy's death is under investigation, but said he was unable to provide any further information while the case is still open.

'He never took off like that': aunt

Jamie Smallboy said her brother, Darius's dad, tried to report him missing to the police on Nov. 5 when he hadn't heard from him for more than a day.

"This was out of character for him. He never took off like that. He never stopped communicating with his dad," Jamie Smallboy said.

But she said police wouldn't take the missing person report at first, saying to wait a couple of days. A report was officially filed on Nov. 7, by which time Darius had already been dead for three days.

A written statement provided by the Vancouver Police Department said the coroners' office is the lead agency on the case, and Darius Smallboy's death is not the subject of a criminal investigation.

"Our Missing Persons Unit had been actively searching for him since the time he was reported missing. His name and information was entered into a national police database and notifications were sent out to front-line VPD officers," the statement reads.

"We worked with family and took a number of investigative steps to locate him, including investigating whether he was using any phones or bank accounts."

The statement did not address questions about the family's claims that an attempt was made to file a missing person report on Nov. 5.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Jamie Smallboy said that when her family was out searching for the missing man, they regularly approached VPD officers to make sure they knew Darius was missing and to ask for any updates in the case.

"They'd say, OK, we'll keep an eye out for him and we'll forward it to the next shift," she said.

But when the next shift of officers arrived, she alleges they hadn't heard about her missing nephew.

"It got to the point where we just like, why even bother asking them?" Jamie Smallboy said.

She added that some officers also dismissed her concerns and made assumptions about what had happened.

"Most of them, minus a couple, they're like, 'Are you sure he's missing? Are you sure he's not on a binge? He's probably just out here using — maybe he doesn't want to go home,'" she said.

Darius suffered from chronic pain and was addicted to painkillers, but he wasn't known to go on binges and disappear, Jamie Smallboy said.

"The VPD, they need to be more considerate and actually listen and not just wipe everyone off with the same brush and be like, 'Oh well, they're addicts,'" she said.